Early on the morning of July 4, 2006 was the only time anyone ever tried to mug me on the streets of my adopted home, Brooklyn, New York. I was walking south on Taaffe Place in camp counselor clothes—a blue polo, cheap white sneakers, and tight green shorts—on a nearly deserted block leading to my building’s front door. It was just after midnight. I was having a phone conversation with a friend in California. Half a block from home, a man in a white T-shirt offered me a cigarette, his voice escaping his mouth in a low, dreadful mumble. I didn’t notice it at first, but as I passed him, shaking off the invitation to smoke, I glimpsed what appeared to be a sawed-off bike handle in his right hand. As I continued walking up the block, I gleaned that he was following me from the play of his shadow on a brick wall to my right.
I’m a light-skinned negro who weighs over two hundred pounds. I used to play offensive guard on a half-decent high school football team. But I was dressed like a buffoon, almost never get in fights, and had a man-purse with a brand-new black MacBook in it. Mark. When I realized the man was following me, I was saddened by the prospect of having to smack a motherfucker in the face with my new laptop, the one I’m currently writing this essay on seven years later. So I ran.
Across the street, up the block. He pursued me to my building’s front door, but I was able to open the door and pivot into the building before the man could strike me with his peculiar improvised weapon. He lashed the sawed-off end of the bike handle at me, but I got out of the way and proceeded to smash his arm, several times, as hard as I humanly could, with the very heavy glass and metal door that led to 227-241 Taaffe Place.
A tall, thirtysomething white man looked on in horror as my attacker removed his now surely injured limb from the door. I slammed it shut, my assailant cursing loudly from the other side of the glass, his slender body shuddering. He was in great pain. I never hung up the phone, so my friend in California, hearing the commotion, was loudly asking me if I was all right, as I held the phone near my chest, breathing hard, staring at this man who had meant me harm.
He was clearly much worse off than I was, for reasons no doubt of his (and our) own making, long before the possibility of stealing from me was something he tried to act on. Now, from the other side of the glass door, he said, tears in his eyes, “Fuck you, fuck you, yella ass nigga, I gonna get yal mothafuckin shit, this is Bed-Stuy bitch.” Then he sauntered off. I went upstairs, to the seventh-story loft I lived in, smoked a spliff, and got ready to face the phony celebration of national independence that the day promised to offer.